Enthusiastic volunteers from a coalition of area churches originally established the Emergency Food Bank, a 501(c)(3) corporation, in March 1973. Now known as the Emergency Food Network, its purpose has always been to provide food for three days of balanced meals for families in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
From its beginning, the EFN has been an all-volunteer organization, with no government or commercial support. This independence has allowed the EFN to provide assistance with no questions asked other than place of residence—no income limitations, no work or reference requirements. The food is either purchased with the funds given by our generous donors or acquired through food drives. Through the years Meadows Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Church of the Incarnation, and Christ Episcopal Church have given major support to the effort, providing rent-free storage and office space.
In the early years, volunteers delivered emergency food supplies to the homes of those in need in Charlottesville or Albemarle. Because the travel time limited how many families could be served, however, the Board soon changed to the current pattern of having the volunteers deliver the orders to a distribution site where families could come to pick up their orders.
As the EFN grew through the years, services expanded from providing food to an individual client three times in a given year to the current structure of providing food once a month. Over the years, fresh milk and bread were added to the bag of nonperishable food. In 2008, the program was able to add cheese and margarine. In 2014, a partnership with the Local Food Hub allowed us to provide some fresh fruits and vegetables as well.
With growing financial stability, the EFN was able to begin providing help with food purchases to local agencies that serve those in need, such as the Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE), and the Bright Stars program in Albemarle County Public Schools. When PACEM (a cold-weather shelter for the homeless in local churches) was established in 2004, the EFN provided the lunch items for the clients. In recent years, the EFN has provided help with food purchases to the Boys & Girls Club, U.Va.’s Hospitality House, the Piedmont House, Church of the Incarnation Hispanic Ministry, the Greenbrier School ESL Project, and Cale Elementary School backpack program.
Until 2012, local churches provided our office and distribution space. When that space was no longer available, the EFN began renting space at 900 Harris St. Although the move necessarily increased our spending on overhead, it allowed us to expand services to more families each day and provided us space for permanent signs to increase our visibility in the community.
The need for emergency help with food has grown tremendously over the 40+ years of our operation. In the 2016–17 fiscal year, we filled orders for an average of 23 families each day; the total number of clients served over that period was more than 2,540.
From its inception until 2011–12, the EFN was entirely volunteer run with no paid staff. In the spring of 2011, the EFN had grown so much that the financial operations required more time than volunteers could provide, and we hired a part-time office manager. This position has helped centralize our operations and made us more efficient.
In 2014 the Emergency Food Bank’s Board of Directors voted on a change that had been long in coming—a new name and public identity that would better describe our mission as a network of more than 100 volunteers providing emergency food, and as an organization that supports a network of providers, from the Boys & Girls Club to Shelter for Help in Emergency. We also wanted to distinguish ourselves, at long last, from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. After a lot of hard work, we decided on a new name, a new logo, and a new website, relaunching the Emergency Food Bank as the Emergency Food Network.